A Hub for Civil Rights Lost to Demolition
1234 Druid Hill Avenue had a story unlike any other. When builders erected the house in the nineteenth century it was one of many handsome Italianate rowhouses in the northwestern suburbs of the city. In 1899, as the neighborhood changed from white to black, Harry S. Cummings, a local African American politician and lawyer, moved into the house with his family. Cummings had graduated from the University of Maryland Law School (one of the first two black men to do so) and, in 1890, became the first African American elected to a Baltimore City Council seat. Cummings lived in the home until 1911, when he moved up the street into another Druid Hill Avenue rowhouse, where he lived until his death in 1917.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the building served as offices to the local chapter of the NAACP, hosting Martin Luther King and Eleanor Roosevelt when they came to Baltimore to work with key leaders like Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson. In 1970, the property became “Freedom House” and continued to serve as a central hub of activism. By December 1977, the organization had “received many citations including the AFRO’s highest honor for its successful crusades in reducing unemployment, crime and delinquency.” When Dr. Jackson donated the house to Bethel AME Church in 1977, the deed required that the property remain in community use or revert back to the ownership of her family.
Immediately next door to the site of Freedom House is 1232 Druid Hill Avenue. As late as 1930, the 1232 Druid Hill Avenue served as a residence, then home to Mrs. Ida Barber (née King). That same year, the property is listed as a residence by Rev. J.E. Lee. By 1934, the property was listed in local directories as the office of W. Owens Stewart in his role as Superintendent of Mt. Zion Cemetery for the Baltimore A. M. E. Conference. By the late 1980s, the building had been turned into the Bethel Bible Institute and also provided space for a Women's Resource and Development Center and the Bethel Christian School.
1234 Druid Hill Avenue and its neighbor at 1232 have been owned or controlled by Bethel AME Church for decades. In recent years, the buildings deteriorated significantly and, in July 2015, Baltimore Slumlord Watch highlighted their poor condition. Bethel AME Church responded to these issues by securing a city building permit for both buildings in late September that allowed non-structural alterations and limited interior demolition. Unfortunately, in October 2015 the church changed their plans and received approval from the Baltimore Housing Department to demolish 1234 Druid Hill Avenue—without notifying preservation advocates or the local chapter of the NAACP. At present, Freedom House is a vacant lot, and the future of the adjoining rowhouse at 1232 Druid Hill Avenue remains uncertain.